Top 10 CO2 Powered Airguns
Owning and shooting an airgun doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby and airguns don’t have to be powered by compressed air, gas rams or complex spring arrangements. The use of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is becoming ever more popular and manufacturers of CO2 airguns, in particular, are taking full advantage of this ever-increasing market.
CO2 powered airguns have taken the market by storm and some replicas are hard to tell apart from the real thing. CO2 airguns are packed with realistic features such as; blowback top slides, cosmetic ejection ports, realistic action loading magazines, and some pistols are field strippable,
Recently I was asked what I thought would be my ten best affordable CO2 airguns, but before I get into my top ten list, let’s talk about some of the things you should know about CO2 as a power source.
CO2 or carbon dioxide is an inert gas, and when used as a power source for airguns it’s made available in compressed liquid form in either 12 gram or 88-gram capsules. The capsules are non-refillable. A used up capsule can be simply discarded into any refuse bin, or recycled.
The chemical composition of CO2 means power fluctuates depending on two main variables. The first of which is the ambient air temperature. If the ambient air temperature is cold, the liquid CO2 form doesn’t expand into gas form fast enough, and as a result, shot power is reduced. My personal tip here, on cold days, is to keep the CO2 cartridge in a warm pocket at least 30-40 minutes before use.
Many CO2 powered airguns are either single or double action and many will shoot repeatedly as quickly as you can pull the trigger, however, CO2 airguns shot in this way won't perform as well, and notably, the point of impact will drop in a fast fire situation. My tip here is to allow at least 5-10 seconds between shots, this will ensure you maintain the same point of impact shot after each shot, or until you reach the capsules good shot limit.
What is a good shot limit you ask? Well, CO2 capsules have a pressure of around 800 pounds per square inch (psi) as opposed to most pre-charged pneumatics that holds air to around 3000 psi. The difference is reflected in power as most CO2 pistols running off a 12-gram capsule are designed to maintain muzzle energy of 2 ½ f/lbs, and are very accurate to 10 yards and further in the right hands. These figures are suitable for many CO2 pistol or rifle shooters.
A 12-gram capsule most commonly used in CO2 pistols usually returns around 50 good shots before the liquid pressure in the capsule begins to drop off, or diminish. An 88-gram capsule normally used in CO2 powered rifles that are designed to maintain muzzle energies of sub 12ft/lbs or as close to 12ft/lbs as legally permitted will return around 60 – 70 good shots.
CO2 in its liquid form is extremely cold and should be handled with caution. A CO2 pistol or rifle shouldn’t be left charged with a half-used capsule, this should be removed after a shooting session. Storing a CO2 pistol or rifle with a primed capsule will cause the rubber seals to freeze and leak. My personal tip is to vent off and remove the capsule after you’ve finished shooting the airgun and to be careful the liquid gas doesn’t vent back onto your hands or any other part of the body; frostbite from a CO2 pistol can be painful.
Maintenance or lubricating capsules are also available, and these can help prolong the life of the seal of the air gun if used as per the manufacturer's instructions.
CO2 powered pistols and rifles are great for everyday plinking, and target shooting, but due to the inconsistent power outputs between shots, I’d strongly advise a CO2 powered pistol or rifle isn’t used for pest control, no matter how good of a shot you think you may be. The power fluctuation on the shot that matters may be so great it’ll be the difference between a humane or non-humane dispatch of live quarry.
Top 10 CO2 Airguns
The Sportsmarketing QB78 air rifle has long stood the test of time and is the big brother to the equally desirable XS78. The QB78 features a real hardwood stock, full metal action and brass trigger. The retail model comes with front and rear truglo sites and shoots close to the sub 12f/lbs legal limit. That said, I still wouldn’t recommend this rifle for pest control.
The rifle is powered by two 12 gram CO2 capsules that are inserted into the air reservoir under the barrel. This arrangement gives the rifle the more traditional air rifle look.
The rifle has enjoyed more than a decade of a cult following, and a quick internet search will reveal forums and owners groups dedicated to tinkering and servicing this great CO2 rifle. There’s not much that can go wrong with this rifle, yet custom and original parts are also readily available just in case something does. The rifle is sturdy and well built, hence it makes a great introduction to air gunning, yet suits the airgun veteran also.
The Walther CP88 is an almost identical replica of the real thing, licenced and distributed by Umarex of Germany, the pistol is targeted for those who want to get into action shooting. The Pistol holds one standard Umarex 8 shot magazine and this is placed into the pistol by releasing the top slide to gain access to the magazine port. Note this pistol is non blowback, hence the slide isn’t operational during the firing cycle.
The pistol grip is designed to house a 12-gram CO2 capsule and the pistol returns around 40 good shots per capsule.
The lifelike pistol comes with a fixed front sight and an adjustable rear sight, although the rear sight can only be adjusted for windage and not elevation. The ambidextrous pistol will fire both single and double action and will empty an 8 round magazine as quickly as you can pull the trigger.
The pistol is equipped with a 4-inch rifled match grade barrel and is very accurate to 10 yards or further in the right hands, however, the realistic weight and trigger pull pressure required to operate this pistol means you probably won't be winning many standing pistol competitions with it, however, you'll hit that tin can at 10 yards over and over again.
The pistol is available in a blacked finish or a nickel finish, some earlier models can be found with a blued finish. All the variations are available with either black plastic or real wood walnut grips. A 6-inch competition model is also available for the more accomplished shooter.
The Beretta 92FS is another lifelike replica mimicking the Italian 9mm Beretta pistol, manufactured and distributed by Umarex of Germany.
This pistol operates and functions exactly as the CP88 I described above.
Now, this is a pistol that needs no real introduction, I only need remind the reader, it’s still here and here to stay.
The 2240 by Crosman USA is one of the biggest selling CO2 pistols of all time and in the USA you can buy one on Amazon for under $100.00, shipped to your door.
The pistol features a plastic action block, a steel rifled barrel, with a CO2 air reservoir conveniently located under the barrel. The CO2 capsule is loaded by removing the cap on the reservoir and inserting the capsule head first. Replacing the cap doesn’t prime the pistol, instead, the operator must fire the pistol to pierce the capsule.
The pistol is only available in single shot .22 calibre and a CO2 capsule returns 40 good shots, hence the name 2240. The 2240 comes standard with a fixed front sight and an adjustable rear sight. The pistol also has a push button safety located on the grip just behind the trigger blade.
The 2240 has changed very little since its original launch, the brass trigger and cocking bolt have now been replaced with all black steel finish. Variations of the 2240 include different length barrels and plastic stock options that can transform the 2240 from a pistol into a rifle. A 2250 Ratcatcher rifle version is available direct from retailers. The cult following this pistol has enjoyed has led to many aftermarket modifications, these include; steel dovetail breach blocks, power adjusters, aftermarket bolt handles, refillable CO2 capsules and compressed air modifications, to say the least. A quick Google search of this pistol may surprise you.
Dan Wesson CO2 Pistol
If revolvers are your thing, then look no further than the Dan Wesson CO2 Pistol. The 6-inch barrel version is available with a smooth bore or rifled barrel. Smooth bore for those of you who like to shoot copper 4.5mm BB’s and rifled for the .177 pellet shooters amongst us. Neither version out trumps the other when it comes to accuracy, however.
Action Sport Games (ASG) of Denmark (headquarters), are licenced to distribute these revolver type air pistols worldwide, and the Dan Wesson revolver is by far my favourite ASG products to use time and time again.
The revolver holds one 12 gram CO2 capsule in the grip and 6 life-sized bullets in the cylinder. The cylinder can be released to make loading easy. The primer end of the bullet is designed to hold the ammo and one pellet or BB is simply placed in the primer end of the bullet, then the bullet is placed into the cylinder.
The cylinder automatically rotates when the pistol is shot, indexing the next round, allowing the shooter to fire the pistol in single or double action. The Dan Wesson revolver comes equipped with both front and rear sights. The rear sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation.
The lifelike look, feel and weight of this pistol means, imitating dirty Harry got all the easier.
Umarex Walther Lever Action
Is that a Winchester 1894 in your pocket? No. It’s the Umarex Walther Lever Action.
The Umarex Walther Lever Action is so lifelike it’s hard to tell it apart from the real thing. The rifle holds one 88 gram CO2 capsule in the butt end, and returns an impressively consistent 400 plus shots. Fitted with both front and rear open sights, and a realistic and sturdy lever-action cocking arm, shooting tin cans has never been so much fun.
The ambidextrous rifle has an all-metal action, a realistic hammer, hardwood stock and can be shot in both single and double action. The rifle holds a .177, 8 shot standard Umarex magazine, this is inserted into a rotating holder situated on one side of the receiver plate. Variations include a Wells Fargo gold receiver model and a nickel plated action model. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I just recreated the American wild west.
KWC Colt / Tanfoglio Witness 1911
If there’s one pistol that I enjoy, my kids enjoy, my friends enjoy and it just seems to be a great fun gun, it has to be the Colt 1911 CO2 blowback pistol. The pistol shoots steel or copper BB’s and will push them out as quick as you can pull the trigger.
The Colt 1911 pistol has authentic laser etched trademarks and stamping on the side and outer barrel. The CO2 blowback is extremely powerful and feels real in the hands. The pistol offers a responsive realistic blowback feature when operated, a fully functioning top slide, a realistic cocking blade and semi-automatic trigger. The pistol can also be stripped down for maintenance and service, as per the live firing version.
The magazine is ejected from the bottom of the pistol grip, this adds to the realism. The magazine holds one 12 gram CO2 cartridge and the BBs to the side of the magazine, which is held under spring tension.
Many would say the KWC Colt 1911 is just a fun gun, offering little in accuracy and durability. It is, however, a very low budget affordable airgun and the pleasure it gives me watching my youngsters enjoy a trip out to the woods to shoot tin cans is priceless. Hence the reason it’s on this list.
Hammerli 850 Air Magnum
If I was pushed to choose a CO2 powered air rifle for pest control, it would have to be the very consistent Umarex 850 Air Magnum, manufactured and distributed by Umarex. That said, I’m still no advocate of using CO2 powered guns for pest control.
The 850 Air Magnum, however, appears to have been designed with pest control in mind, featuring an ambidextrous synthetic stock, with a rubber butt pad. The rifle has an all-metal action, is available as a multishot in both .177 and .22 calibres and in a beech stock option.
The rifle uses the standard plastic Umarex rifle magazine and this is inserted from the right-hand side of the action. The magazine is then held in place by sliding the magazine catch forward which is also situated on the right-hand side of the action block, just behind the magazine slot. If however, you forget to lock the magazine in place, the rifle is fitted with an additional clever feature, when pushing the bolt forward to load the pellet into the breach, the magazine catch is also engaged.
Cocking the rifle couldn't be simpler with its side bolt action, lifting the bolt up slightly from its locked position, then drawing it back engages the rear automatic safety, and cycles the magazine. Pushing the bolt forward and locking it back down places the pellet in the breach ready for shooting. The safety can easily be reached with the tip of the thumb when you’re ready to shoot the rifle.
The 850 magnum comes complete with a fixed front sight and a fully adjustable rear sight. An 88-gram CO2 capsule can be attached to the rifle by removing the front portion of the stock, this portion simply clicks off revealing the 88-gram screw connect valve fitting underneath. The front sight also has a knurled end cap that can be removed to reveal a ½ inch UNF thread to attach an aftermarket silencer to.
The front removable section of the stock is equipped with a Picatinny rail - this can come in handy if you’re looking to attach a torch or bipod to your rifle setup.
The action block is machined with an 11mm dovetail groove, allowing the user to attach an aftermarket scope.
Sig Sauer MCX CO2 Rifle
This has to be the coolest rifle on the list, and SIG although not new to the airgun world are bringing some great semi-automatic and double-action air rifles to the table. If it's the automatic machine gun or AR15 type look you're after, then look no further.
The SIG features a mostly metal body and action, with a synthetic removable rear stock that houses the 88-gram capsule. The magazine is detachable and features a 30 round .177 rotary belt magazine. The aluminium housing includes a full-length Picatinny rail on the top and bottom, for mounting a red dot, torch or scope combination. The additional front vertical handle is included as standard.
Features of the SIG Sauer MCX include:
A rifled steel barrel.
30rd Roto Belt pellet magazine.
Adjustable flip-up front sight.
Adjustable flip-up rear sight.
Weaver/Picatinny optics rail.
Removable tactical foregrip.
10. Lee Enfield BB Firer
I’m finishing this list with a rifle I'm looking forward to getting my hands on when it becomes available. This is the Lee Enfield BB Firer revealed at the 2018 British Shooting Show.
The prototype rifle is a very close replica of the original Lee Enfield British army rifle and has the following features:
Fires 4.5mm BB’s via a detachable magazine
Powered by a single 88-gram CO2 capsule (shot count unknown).
Hardwood stock (Beech).
Front and rear sight.
All metal construction (unlike the plastic airsoft version currently available).